Old Yeller (1957 film)

Old Yeller (1957 film)
Old Yeller

VHS cover
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Produced by Bill Anderson
Screenplay by Fred Gipson
William Tunberg
Based on Old Yeller by
Fred Gipson
Starring Dorothy McGuire
Fess Parker
Kevin Corcoran
Tommy Kirk
Music by Oliver Wallace
Will Schaefer
Cinematography Charles P. Boyle
Editing by Stanley E. Johnson
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s) December 25, 1957 (1957-12-25)
Running time 83 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Old Yeller is a 1957 Walt Disney Productions film starring Tommy Kirk, Dorothy McGuire and Beverly Washburn, and directed by Robert Stevenson. It is about a boy and a stray dog in post-Civil War Texas. The story is based upon the 1956 Newbery Honor-winning book Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. Gipson also co-wrote the screenplay with William Tunberg. The success of Old Yeller led to a sequel, Savage Sam, which was also based on a Gipson book.



In 1860's post-Civil War Texas, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) leaves home to work on a cattle drive, leaving behind his wife Katie (Dorothy McGuire), older son Travis (Tommy Kirk) and younger son Arliss (Kevin Corcoran). The family is so poor the children have never seen a dollar bill, other than worthless Confederate dollars.

While Jim is away, Travis sets off to work in the cornfield, where he encounters "Old Yeller", a Labrador Retriever/Mastiff mixed-breed mutt. Travis unsuccessfully tries to drive Old Yeller away, but Arliss likes the dog and defends him. However, Old Yeller's habit of stealing meat from smokehouses and robbing hens' nests does not endear him to Travis.

Later, Arliss tries to capture a bear cub by feeding it cornbread and grabbing it. The angry mother bear hears her cub wailing and attacks, but Old Yeller appears and drives off the bear, earning the affection of the family. Travis eventually accepts the dog and a profound bond grows between the two.

Old Yeller's owner, Burn Sanderson (Chuck Connors), shows up looking for his dog, but comes to realize that the family needs the dog more than he does, and agrees to trade the dog to Arliss in exchange for a horny toad and a home-cooked meal.

One day, Travis sets out to trap wild boars. On the advice of Bud Searcy, he sits in a tree, trying to rope them from above as Yeller keeps them from escaping. Travis falls into the pack of boars below, one of which injures him. Yeller attacks the boar and rescues Travis, who escapes with a badly-hurt leg. Yeller is seriously wounded as well. Searcy warns the Coates family of hydrophobia in the area. Fortunately, the boars did not have hydrophobia, and both boy and dog fully recover.

However, the family soon realize that their cow, Old Rose, has not been allowing her calf to feed, and may have hydrophobia. Watching her stumble about, Travis confirms it and shoots her. While Arliss and Travis burn the body that night, a rabid wolf attacks. Yeller defends the family, but is bitten in the struggle before Travis can shoot and kill the wolf. The family pens Yeller in a makeshift cage. Soon enough, the dog has hydrophobia. After Yeller nearly attacks Arliss, who not understanding the danger had attempted to open the cage, a grieving Travis is forced to shoot Yeller. In doing so, he takes his first step towards adulthood.

Heartbroken from the death of his beloved dog, Travis refuses the offer of a new puppy sired by Yeller. Jim comes home with a bagful of money and presents for the family. Having learned about Yeller's fate from Katie, he explains to his son the facts about life and death. When they get back to the farm, the young puppy steals a piece of meat, a trick he learned from his father. Travis adopts the puppy, naming him "Young Yeller" in honor of his sire.

Differences from the book

The only major difference between the book and the film is that in the book, Mrs. Coates convinces Travis to shoot Old Yeller shortly after the dog fights the wolf and is exposed to rabies (during the incubation period), whereas in the film, Travis insists on waiting until Old Yeller develops symptoms before killing him. There is also the minor difference in that Old Yeller is bob-tailed in the book. Whereas, in the movie, he has a long tail that arches over his back (similar to the tails of Arctic sled dogs). Another major difference is that Old Yeller appears as a Lab/Mastiff mix, while in the book he is implied to be a Black Mouth Cur.

Reception and legacy

Bosley Crowther in the December 26, 1957 New York Times praised the film's performers and called the film "a nice little family picture" that was a "lean and sensible screen transcription of Fred Gipson's children's book." He noted that the film was a "warm, appealing little rustic tale [that] unfolds in lovely color photography. Sentimental, yes, but also sturdy as a hickory stick."[1]

The movie went on to become an important cultural film for baby boomers,[2] with Old Yeller's death in particular being remembered as one of the most tearful scenes in cinematic history. It currently has a rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.[3] One critic cited it as "among the best, if not THE best" of the boy-and-his-dog films.[4] Critic Jeff Walls wrote:

Old Yeller, like The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, has come to be more than just a movie; it has become a part of our culture. If you were to walk around asking random people, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who did not know the story of Old Yeller, some who didn’t enjoy it or someone who didn’t cry. The movie’s ending has become as famous as any other in film history."[5]

In popular culture

Many references to Old Yeller can be found throughout popular culture:

  • In K-9, James Belushi tries letting a dog know he is not valued by telling him that, as a little boy, when he saw the scene from Old Yeller where Travis shot the dog, he "did not cry!"
  • In Stripes, Bill Murray's character uses Old Yeller as a way of bridging the gap between his platoon members asking "Who cried when Old Yeller got shot?" Everyone raises their hand and in this way the platoon members realize they are all similar despite their differences.
  • In Marmaduke, when Marmaduke runs away from home, he watches part of Old Yeller in a TV store window.
  • In The Mask, Jim Carrey says "Tell Auntie Em to let Old Yeller out", while referencing several classic literary moments after being "shot".
  • In 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure when Li'l Lightning tells Thunderbolt that he'll die in his next episode, Thunderbolt excitedly declares that he'll "kick bigger than Old Yeller."
  • In an episode[which?] of The Cosby Show season 1, Bill Cosby as Cliff Huxtable cites his position as that of Old Yeller reference in defending the house—specifically, by being hard on Denise's boyfriends—in a discussion with Phylicia Rashad as Clair. Clair reminds Cliff, "You know at the end of that movie, they shot Old Yeller." In a later episode[which?], Cliff rents this movie for Rudy's video party, much to Rudy and her friends' disappointment.
  • In an episode[which?] of King of the Hill, Hank Hill's son Bobby befriends a raccoon who the family believes has infected their bloodhound, Ladybird, with rabies. Hank orders Bobby to shoot Ladybird as she approaches him, but upon the sound of gunfire it is discovered that Ladybird is fine, and that Bobby has in fact shot the raccoon who was about to attack Ladybird and Hank.
  • In the Family Guy episode "He's Too Sexy for His Fat", a cutaway gag features a parody of the movie, in which Old Yeller is shot for accidentally erasing an answering machine message.
  • In an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air entitled "Grumpy Young Men," Carlton plays a video of Old Yeller. Will tries to shoo him out in order to get some alone time with a girl named Valerie, but she tells him to take a walk if he is not interested in the movie. He does, but not before letting them know that "they shoot the damn dog."
  • In an episode of Friends entitled "The One Where Old Yeller Dies" (season 2 episode 20), Phoebe watches the end of the movie and, having never seen the ending of this or any other sad film, refers to it as "a sick doggy snuff film".
  • In Justice League Unlimited, the former heroine Hawkgirl mentions to Green Lantern that his favorite old movie is Old Yeller, and uses the ending as a reason for why she has to be the one to kill the resurrected Solomon Grundy.
  • On the show Quintuplets, Bob tells Carol that the last time he cried was when he had to take his dog out and shoot him behind the barn. When Carol leaves, Bill tells the waitress he's lucky that his wife never saw the movie Old Yeller.
  • In the Wizards of Waverly Place episode "Alex Gives Up", Alex Russo, portrayed by Selena Gomez, informs peers of the fact her werewolf boyfriend, Mason Greyback, cries at the mention of 'Old Yeller' in a bid to get him angry so he will frighten away a mythical creature.
  • In an episode of American Dad! titled "Surro-gate", Stan wants to kill a child's dog when he thinks the boy is like "the kid from Old Yeller"
  • In That 70's Show Season 5 Episode 9 titled BLACK DOG, just before Hyde shoots Kelso in the ass he says, "This is like Old Yeller"!
  • In the Gary Allan song "Tough Little Boys", there is the line, "Well I never cried when Old Yeller died, at least not in front of my friends".
  • In the Confederate Railroad song "She Never Cried", a line says "She never cried when Old Yeller died, so do you think I'll cry when she's gone."
  • In the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "It's All About the Pentiums", a reference is made to Old Yeller in the lyrics: "I should do the world a favor and cap you like Old Yeller / You're just about as useless as JPEGs to Helen Keller".
  • Rapper, Gucci Mane references the movie in his song "Lemonade": "AK hit your dog and you can't bring Old Yeller back".
  • In the April 25, 1983 Garfield comic strip, the cat names Old Yeller as his favorite film, stating "I love movies with happy endings."[6] This is later repeated in the animated 1991 special Garfield Gets a Life, as well as in the 2004 Garfield movie.
  • In a Sunday Pearls Before Swine comic strip, Zebra explains the ending of Old Yeller to Pig, describing it as one of the saddest scenes ever filmed, and saying he couldn't imagine anyone not crying after seeing it. In the last panel, two crocs are sitting in a crowded theater yelling, "Eat da dog! Eat da dog!"
Video games
  • In The Curse of Monkey Island a dialogue option for Guybrush to say is that "they have to shoot the dog in the end". LeChuck starts to choke up and says "you know how that movie always gets to me".
  • In Mass Effect 2, set in the year 2185, one of the main characters, Jacob Taylor, enjoys watching Old Yeller: Centennial Remastered Edition while working out.


External links

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